My LEGO love affair began with a Borchardt Fellowship in 2014. It was a writing and technology integration course. We learned about different writing and technology integration tools to use in the classroom, one of which was StoryStarter. At the time, I was a middle school Language Arts Special Education teacher. Our studies began on campus in spring at North Carolina State University and continued at the University of Surrey (England) for three weeks in the summer.

StoryStarter was my first experience using LEGO as a learning tool and playing with them as well. I had never had legos as a child. As a writer and Language Arts teacher, this engaging and playful manipulative resonated with me. I was able to articulate a high level concept rather rapidly and efficiently to my surprise. Of all the writing and technology integration tools we explored, StoryStarter really stuck with me. You can view my StoryStarter comic (Assignment 6) in my course portfolio. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2014, I wrote a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Project grant to purchase a classroom set of StoryStarter kits. This purchase allowed me to launch Brick Scholars as I saw the need in my own community to offer engaging hands-on learning opportunities where creativity was the lens and learning was the outcome. And in December 2015, Brick Scholars was born.

I also thought it would be fun to be a trainer on how to use StoryStarter in the classroom. This began my relationship with Michelle Roborg-Sondergaard, who at the time was the Global Head of HR at LEGO Education. I sent her a LinkedIn request and shared my interest in working for LEGO Education. She directed me to Shannon Paynter, LEGO Education North America HR Director. I shared my portfolio with Shannon and continued to check-in on possible employment opportunities with LEGO Education. Most importantly, I cultivated a relationship and even though there weren’t any opportunities that fit my skills and background in education, I always circled back and followed-up.

Then an email came in from Kelly Reddin, Master Trainer and LEGO Education Academy trainer. She contacted me in 2015 and offered me an opportunity to be trained to be a LEGO Education Academy trainer. I had vacation plans at the time (booked and paid for), but as my husband said, “You don’t turn down an opportunity to work with LEGO.” So I rescheduled our vacation and off I went to Pittsburg, Kansas to be trained at LEGO Education North America headquarters.

Toto, we are in Kansas…

Before our training, we read over 600 pages of research and pedagogy about Constructionism, Flow, and the educational theory behind LEGO Education products.

When I read about Flow theory, Constructivism and Constructionism, a light bulb went off for me. I always leaned towards a hands-on,  learning-is-fun approach when I taught. When I learned there was a name for this teaching style — let alone research based proof that it was the best way to teach, I was ecstatic.

I always gravitated towards (and often got scolded for by administrators) a hands-on, heart-on approach to learning. I was told my first year of teaching (back in 1998) to teach from a textbook and hand out worksheets. I never believed in worksheets or teaching from a textbook as an educator. I believed learning should be fun and joyful, even in middle school. Plus, I had Special Education students. Worksheets and this type of textbook learning doesn’t work with them. The next year I moved to California and had an administrator who gave me the freedom to teach creatively. She sold me at the job fair with, “I don’t care if you teach with elephants as long as students learn the objective.” The administrator who told me to teach from a textbook and hand out worksheets my first year was fired from his role as assistant principal and later put back in the classroom.

Although Brick Scholars is a new business, I believe I am making an impact. I work with students and teachers throughout North Carolina. I have presented at conferences on STEM, including Girl Scouts and a STEM-E conference (the E at the end for entrepreneurship). I’ve conducted professional development for educators for over ten years. My most recent partnership with the ECU/NC State University Collaborative has ten counties in eastern North Carolina, as it serves students and teachers who are in a tier 1 area of North Carolina (top level) that is an economically deprived area and lack educational resources.

The N.C. Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a Tier designation. The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2, and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3. Rocky Mount, NC – located 60 miles east of Raleigh/Durham – sits in one of many Tier 1 counties in the region. — ECU/NC State University Collaborative website

My motivations to attend the Idea Conference are aligned with PlayFutures advocacy to promote playful learning. I am also the United States Ambassador for the Agency for Cultural Diplomacy Let’s Brick program.

Through the language of bricks and the collaboration of the Let’s Brick platform, together we can create a better world bridging understanding through communication and creativity. — Megan Oteri

I have a background in education (20 years as an elementary and special education teacher). I am an advocate for STEAM education and playful learning, as well as founder of Brick Scholars, a mobile STEAM lab that provides opportunities for people of all ages to brick and learn. ​My background in Arts Integration, experience as a classroom teacher, and STEAM education advocate are a wonderful mix and succinctly align with PlayFutures mission. That is why I am so excited about attending the conference if it is a possibility. This portfolio website showcases my passion for Arts Integration as I also work in schools teaching creative writing and photography as an artist-in-schools.

This post highlights my early work with WeDo 1.0 (as I learned how to use the software proficiently side by side with my then five year old). Learning WeDo 1.0 side by side with my son was the catalyst for me to start Brick Scholars. I saw how learning was experiential for both of us and how LEGO robotics and storytelling lit his heart and mind on fire.

I have always been an experiential learner at heart. I have always learned best by doing.  Benjamin Franklin said it best…

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

I went to a special Pre-K program for students with disabilities as I had a severe speech disability. This experience shaped my early learning and taught me that learning differently is a strength. This school taught me my disability was a strength. Learning differently is natural to children.

My interest and motivation in attending the conference is so I can continue to help spread the mission of the LEGO Foundation and PlayFutures as an ambassador for playful learning. I work in schools throughout North Carolina as an artist-in-residence and I see how stressed teachers and students are. Students and teachers creativity is stifled and I have been in their shoes too. I want to help educators learn there are other ways to meet the high demands of standardized testing, while also meeting their core human needs — to be creative, playful, and joyful. I conduct professional development for educators and parents throughout North Carolina and work with businesses as a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator.

I believe I would be a valuable contributor and participant in the conference.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my request.

Playfully,

Megan Oteri